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Home » 2017 » January » 18 » A Visit to New York, Part 2
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A Visit to New York, Part 2

Continued from here

2. Technical meetups in New York

In addition to my political interest, which is really an interest in social justice, I have an interest in advanced modes of production. One of these is 3D printing.

So, I googled for “3D printing in New York City”. First, I found different companies that do 3D printing. But I wanted to go somewhere where they teach you about 3D printing. So I found “Fat Cat Lab”, with its “Arduino Tuesdays”, and “3D printing Thursdays”. “Arduino” is a very popular, open source microcontroller, which is used in various hobby projects, such as simple robots – something I started to make when I got involved in 3D printing. This microcontroller can be used to make “obstacle avoiding robot”, such as this:

So, I went to “Fat Cat Lab” “Arduino Tuesdays”. There, I was met by very friendly persons who explained to me about the lab. It is a non-profit space sponsored by a “Fat Cat Bar” owner downstairs. It occupies a prime commercial space in Greenwich Village, along with other commercial projects, such as a “spy store” and a fashionable hair saloon.

I was welcomed by Stewart, who has a degree in electrical engineering, and was previously involved in airspace industry, designing electrical systems for the Space Shuttle. Now he is retired and volunteers his time as the Fat Cat Lab, as a leader for Arduino Tuesdays. For example, here is an announcement for January 24th, 2017:

https://www.meetup.com/fat-cat-fab-lab/events/236925430/?rv=ro2_e

Stewart is a member of 29 other meetups, all of them having to do with “making things” and programming. Hence, a person should not be limited to 1 meetup, but can go to various meetings, and learn from them.

Later, other participants in our meetup started to show up. I was sitting and talking next to one young black guy, a sophomore at Borough of Manhattan Community College, majoring in engineering. He has previously designed a program for a robot which won a competition among other college robots. The competition consisted of finding a way along a line and putting balls in baskets at specified corners. He showed me a video. 

So, such meetups are a great way to learn from people about what is actually going on in various parts of industry. It is much better than taking classes to learn about abstract principles and may be later getting to apply them. Here, we were given Arduino microcontrollers and all the wires and breadboards that we need to learn about designing electrical circuits with Arduino. Stewart offered us a list of projects in increasing level of difficulty.

The lab appeared to be integrated racially. In addition to the black guy, there were also two Asian Americans in our meetup (one of them a young woman), and two or three white Americans. This is important, for in the U.S. a race of a person closely coincides with his social-economic position. For example, almost all sellers of candies and newspapers in subway kiosks are of Indian origin.

***

Two days later, I went to “3D printing Thursdays”. In the same place and at the same time there was a class on “Machine Learning”. For example, their announcement for a meetup on January 19, 2017 can be seen here:

https://www.meetup.com/fat-cat-fab-lab/events/236359800/?gj=ro2_e&rv=ro2_e&_af=event&_af_eid=236359800&https=on

Basic theme at this meetup is “artificial intelligence”. To that purpose, they discuss “knowledge representation”, “natural language processing”, etc.

I have made a video of this class, meeting along with “3D printing Thursdays”:

https://www.facebook.com/100001777160586/videos/1162385410497353/

As you can see, the atmosphere is quite relaxed. Two different classes meet at the same time, in the same space, and don’t interfere with each other. One set of people is doing something with 3d printers, and others are discussing machine learning. There were still other people, working on individual projects with various machines and tools.

At the 3d printing meetup I met an old guy who just assembled his 3d printer similar to mine (RepRap Prusa I3). He had a problem with a nozzle that got clogged up. So, I was able to tell him how to clean it, based on my difficult experience with the same problem. And that’s exactly the point of such meetups: people who have had various experiences are able to share them with others, so that these others are not scared in front of difficulties before them. That’s how progress is made.

After “Fat Cat Lab”, I found that there are “Maker spaces” at different universities in New York. As I am an alumnus of Columbia University, I looked for a maker space there, and found it. Here is their FB page:

https://www.facebook.com/ColumbiaMakerSpace/?fref=ts

I found that before using their equipment I need to go to a safety instructions course, which I did at the nearest available time. I took my bike via subway from Brooklyn to 125th street in Manhattan, and there biked and walked through snow to Columbia, to present myself at 9 a.m. at the safety instruction course. This lasted 10-15 minutes, as I was the only guy who showed up. Later, I was joined by a young student of Asian origin. Afterward, the instructor – his name was John – helped me to set up a print of my boat (a model of a 40 foot yacht). After several trials, the print has started, and lasted over 5 hours.

During this time, I biked to Lincoln Center to buy 2 tickets for me and my mother for a classical music concert later that night.

http://www.lincolncenter.org/calendar

I came back to the University, and glanced at other labs which were at the Engineering building at Columbia University. My particular attention focused on “creative machines” lab. There, through a glass window, I was able to see a robotic arm and several drones. The direction of the lab is very interesting. It is building machines that are able to self-replicate, self-improve and even engage in creativity:

http://www.creativemachineslab.com/

I spent some time university library, reading about Ho Chi Minh. Then, went to pick up my print, which was all done. I have scheduled with John to meet at specified time at the lab, but another “superuser” was there (thus they call people who oversee other users), so I was able to pick up my project myself. Here is a photo of the project, as I have given it away to my son to play with:

Later John showed up and told me that the maker space is open only to people who are associated with Columbia University at this moment, such as students and faculty. Since I am an alumnus, the Maker Space is formally closed to me, as they don’t have enough space and machines for everyone. This left an unpleasant aftertaste in my soul... 

3. Annual New Year swim

As a side note, I would like to add that physical strength and vigor is not lacking in New York, and one such prominent event I also found though “meetup”. This was a traditional New Year Swim at Coney Island Polar Bear Club. This year this was the 114th annual swim.

The time was around 1 p.m. on January 1st, 2017, and there were several thousands of people at the Coney Island Beach. Near the epicenter of the swim there was a volunteer band playing drums, as people were approaching and dipping themselves in the water. A number of patrol boats and a helicopter were guarding the event. Also, there were “life guards” at special high seats, from which they could observe the coastline and people swimming. There were also several kayakers there. Two of them asked me to take a picture of them. People were drinking, eating, joking. Overall, the atmosphere was that of a festival, a popular holiday. A video of the events is here:

https://www.facebook.com/100001777160586/videos/1158795014189726/

https://www.facebook.com/100001777160586/videos/1158795590856335/

So, the point is clear: it is possible to organize massive physical and health events through such sites as “Meetup” and promote people’s vigor, health and strength, so necessary for intellectual and physical work.

4. A Marxist meetup

I have also been to a left-wing political meetup, called “Essential Marx Saturday”, organized by “Marxist Education Project”.

http://marxedproject.org/event/essential-marx-saturdays/

The project is organized in a place called “Brooklyn Commons”, where, incidentally, also the “Jacobin” magazine is based. This is downtown area of Brooklyn, which means it is moderately priced (as opposed to downtown Manhattan).

The courses which the project offers are priced at around $10/lesson. However, the person who has organized the class said that we can pay whatever we can, if we cannot afford the $10. I have chosen to pay the full price, not to appear as a beggar.

At the meeting, we have discussed the introduction to “German Ideology” by Marx. The discussion was led by one graduate student in economics at the New School in Manhattan, a research university started by the Frankfurt school of Marxists who were forced to emigrate from Hitler’s Germany in 1930’s. Overall, there were 7 people present, in a small room.

Over 2 hours, we read passages from introduction to the German Ideology, and discussed their meanings and relevance in today’s “knowledge economy”. Marx argued that real relationships and events take place outside our heads, in the real world. Changing our minds about this or that even won’t bring about a revolution, or a change in the real world. However, today’s reformers – e.g. Dan Voronov speaking at “Relationships Anarchy” seminar – seem to be bent on changing our perceptions of reality, our “psychology”, thus implicitly preserving the status quo, the oppressive relationships that exist independently of our minds.

This shows the importance of what Marx has written for our times. Our reformers seem to be ignorant of the mistakes, which the reformers of the XIX century have made, and which have been philosophically criticized:

“Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence”, 1845.

The lesson of this critique is clear: we should learn “the laws of gravity”, and not declare them to be “outdated”, a “superstition”. Only thus we can avoid “drowning”.

I tried to challenge Marx’s thesis by bringing in the “the knowledge economy”. By this term I mean that the most important means of production has become “knowledge”, in other words, conceptions which we form about the world, models we create about how the world functions. If the model departs from accepted axioms – such as “the world is flat”, or “two parallel lines don’t intersect” – then we’re able to create some truly revolutionary models of the Earth, or the Universe, which lead to startling consequences.

However, it should be observed that these models don’t change the world – for example, the Earth remains a sphere – but present a better description of relationships in the world. These relationships are not obvious to our 5 senses, but can only be perceived by intellect. It is this “essence” which should be the object of investigation, not “changing our minds” about commonplace beliefs, as psychologists and reformers are bent on doing.

I must add that after the meeting of the Marxist Reading Group, we had our e-mails gathered, and the leader of the discussion mailed in some questions, which have remained at the end of the session. I think it is a good idea to follow up any real meeting with such an e-mail group. 

5. Other kinds of meetups

In addition to “Fat Cat Lab” and “Marxist Reading Group”, I found many other “meetups” of interest to me at the www.meetup.com. These were groups dealing with polyamory, yachting, and other things I am interested in. A group on yachting was organizing a trip on a yacht from Florida to Cuba in April 2017, for women.

The variety of “meetups” on any one day is staggering: from “Joy of oral sex” to “underground tour of Manhattan”.   The number of topics is also staggering:

https://www.meetup.com/topics/

Thus, if we’re interested in “3d printing”, we can see different groups around the world having meetups on the topic:

https://www.meetup.com/topics/3d-printing/all/

On polyamory there is also a large number of meetups:

https://www.meetup.com/topics/polyamory/all/

I think we should start a polyamory meeting in Kiev with the help of the www.meetup.com  

Meetups exist in various countries around the world:

https://www.meetup.com/cities/?all=1

In Kiev, there are the following meetups:

https://www.meetup.com/cities/ua/kyiv/

Most of these have to do with programming and IT. Some with English. And there are no meetups devoted to discussing the social and political crisis facing ourselves (e.g. those degenerately high bills for heating and electricity). And these are real issues that real people – masses of them! – face every day.

6. Conclusion

Conclusion seems simple: we need to organize meetups in many directions. These meetups will stimulate our development, by cross-fertilization with like-minded people, by sharing of our knowledge, material resources, and experience. We are not all powerful, like we would be in a socialist society, where all the means of production would be in social usage. However, we are not powerless either. There are some means of production which we own, and some knowledge that we have, and if we learn to use them collectively, we can go to great distances…

Specifically, I propose starting:

1) a meetup devoted to real economic and social issues which we face everyday. E.g. huge bills we have to pay, oppressing relationships at work, corruption at schools, etc.

2) a theoretical meetup devoted to philosophical problems and global politics, like the “Marxist Reading Group” at Brooklyn Commons.

3) a meetup for developing kids’ technical creativity. As opposed to regular “circles”, the aim here should not be “competition” or repeating on last year’s models, but making something new – both for teachers and the kids.

4) a meetup for adults interested in technical creativity, like “Fat Cat Lab” or the “Maker Space” at Columbia University. These should be regular events, not rare pay-for meetings.

5) A meetup for exploring different kinds of relationships between sexes.  One example is a “cuddle-up party” in New York, https://www.meetup.com/newyorkcitycuddleparties/

6) Finally, there should be meetups aimed at a healthy lifestyle, like the annual New Year swim in New York. These can be swimming events, biking events, running events, etc. They should be wide open to the public, free of charge, and engage people with various talents, such as musicians, to promote an atmosphere of festivity and holiday. 

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